Something Has Gone Wrong Inside (day 124)

It’s weird, all the literature about addiction and recovery. Alcoholism is psychological, they say. No, physiological. No, biological. Alcoholism is genetic. No, it isn’t. Yes, it is. Well, that’s partly true but it’s all very misunderstood and the doctors fight with the psychiatrists and the researchers don’t believe the evidence and some people have this kind of personality, or that character trait, or kink, or bend, or curve. Or whatever.

I was trying so hard to understand. I really was. But even after reading mountains of books and doing hours and hours of online research and taking in the AA stuff, it feels very much like it felt at the beginning. Nobody knows but they all think they do. Some believe in God and some are offended by God (I’m leaning toward the latter if I’m being honest). I think I liked things better when I just decided alcohol was definitely somehow strangely and mysteriously killing me and I was done with playing along so I quit.

If I stopped counting days, would it matter? If the days and nights became weeks and months which fell forward into years, who would care about numbers in the end? I think it was Allen Carr who asked the very poignant question: what are recovering alcoholics counting towards? Towards nothing happening?

I get that. I mean if I had an allergy to penicillin I just wouldn’t take penicillin anymore. I wouldn’t sit around counting days between turning down a random drug I know I cannot have. It all gets a bit head-trippy is the thing, I guess.

Now truth be told, I am a person who likes a morning ritual so I almost don’t mind that I have this new AA app on my phone that offers me a daily “spiritual reading.” But the repetition of ‘God’ and then God as ‘He’ is fucking exhausting. And the readings are so aloof and vague and condescending. It feels like a lecture or going to ‘confession’ like I did when I was a kid. It’s all sweaty and freaky and you feel like you are squirming with worms inside because you did something bad but you don’t know exactly what it is. And the longer you bow your head and listen you start to feel like the reason you are there at all is not just because you did bad things but you are bad things. Very, very bad, abnormal, wrong things.

I’m not here for it. Half the reason I fucked around with alcohol in the first place was to escape the bullshit patriarchy of organized religion and all the ways it destroyed my sense of worth as a woman. By ‘organized’ and ‘religion’ I mean simply anything or anyone who refers to God as He. Do not start with that shit it is so glaringly disgusting. You think ingesting alcohol is toxic? Try ingesting hate disguised as redemption. I do not need that mess coming back to me now. Not now, when I am just finally getting free of all the old baggage and trauma that held me hostage all my life.

I realize that if you are not a person who ever became addicted to drinking that all of this may sound pretty bonkers. But I really couldn’t stop unless I made stopping my first priority. My number one focus. The foundational endeavor that would rebuild my entire life.

In a book called Under the Influence, the authors James R. Milam, Ph.D. and Katherine Ketcham talk about how alcoholics process alcohol differently in their bodies than nonalcoholics. That alcoholics do not want to stop drinking once they start, whereas a regular person will not want to keep drinking once the sedative effects of the alcohol start setting in. Nonalcoholics only want the early-on effects, the stimulant, the happy energetic euphoric feeling you get from one or two. After that they feel sick or disoriented or whatever and this turns them off to having any more to drink. The stopping happens all very naturally, so to speak.

There are all kinds of scientific reasons for this cited in the book. And if you believe it that’s fine. And then of course maybe we believe what we want to believe about ourselves, our chemistry, our makeup, our genetics, because then we are not to blame for any of it. And then it can at last be explained and your frustration about what the fuck is wrong with you can be laid to rest. But we do not know what we do not know. And even if you’re like me and you read everything you can get your hands on to try to understand, you still don’t know.

I know I’m not drinking today. Or any day. For the rest of my time here on this planet I am not fucking with alcohol anymore. What I don’t know is if I am supposed to count days. Or continue researching. I don’t know if I am supposed to build my life and sense of purpose around a disease that may or may not be a ‘disease.’ A ‘flaw’ that may or may not be ‘real.’ There are people out there who just stop. They just fucking stop and that’s the end of it. They move on and live and never go back.

Breathe for Me (audio)

It’s all I can do at the moment to sip the tea and hold it against my chest. Warmth as resuscitation. Candles and silence. Trees creaking in the wind in a far off wood. A white sky spreads itself open wide between my palms. Both the time gone by and the time to come are too far apart to hear each other’s intentions, so they whisper at me from opposite corners. Rooftops and smoke escaping from chimneys into what can only become the cold of another winter night. Fear outstretched. Desire worn thin. If you can remove the claws from your skin your skin will mend itself while you sleep. It’s too early to crawl into bed. It’s too late to take back the promises you made to yourself, the ones you repeat all day in your head. As my fingers turn the page my mind is an ocean and not a single word is cherished or retained. The evening light is a pale daffodil wilting in the empty street below. I close my eyes and imagine you breathing. Inside of the motion of the distance there is a footstep and it is forward facing in the dark.

Slit

Evening birdsong sifts inside the open window as I watch the light’s eyes turn down against the hands of an antique clock. What cuts my heart deepest is these little slivers of moment, soft sweet flickers of an invisible beauty made just barely visible. A fragment of a second’s split in the veil which drapes the eternal body of time.

A boundary not crossed but extinguished, collapsed entirely into itself: into nothing.

Light sliced along the edge of a sloping petal; consummation without intrusion. So thin a movement of air against skin. Even as you collect yourself beneath it, it has disappeared.

What else could this dead world possibly offer you faith in but melancholy. People are hysterical. People are maniacs. Cruelty abounds as does deceit. In the mind of the killer. In the mind of the rich man. In the back of the throat of the hungry and abandoned child. God and the Devil and the Son and the Blood. And you pass my whiskey and you want to get high and you want to talk about this fucking life as you know it but so do I – so do I – and it isn’t this.

It is not this. It cannot be this. Anything but this.

Everything else is layered on top of what is true and what is true is the thing that aches the most. I pull out a notebook to write a message to no one. Notes on my phone. Lipstick on the wall. Make a world out of nothing and hold it in my hands like a sacrifice. Like a pistol. Like a looking glass I attempt to gaze into. Fall into. We are only ourselves and only unto ourselves can we return.

A tangerine sun, like one strung out eye, sinks into a white glass sea.

Finding Myself: Reflections On Self-Transformation During Quarantine

“Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

As I move through the days, I realize more and more that I feel desperate for a world that is more thoughtful, contemplative, aware, awakened, transformed. Desperation, though, is not anything I can work with, this wishing for a different kind of world, as that is not within my control. What I can work with, however, is myself. So I am taken recently with the idea of doing inner work with myself in a way I wish society and the outer world at large would take the time to do before emerging from this gruesome pandemic.

You see, I don’t want to go blindly back, I want to move forward transformed. And my fear is that too many people want the former even as I am starved for the latter. I am hungry for a transformation of some kind to take place both within and around me.

I have admired Rebecca Solnit for so many years I can’t even recall when I first was introduced to her work, save to say it was a long while ago. But I had never before read her incredibly eloquent, insightful book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It has come into my life just a few days ago and met me exactly where I am in my -sometimes/often rattled- mind and soul. (Incidentally, the irony of a book about being lost finding me where I am in the dark right now is not. . . ahem, lost on me.)

There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I find quite poignant: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,” that resonates very deeply and profoundly with me in this present moment, some nine weeks into isolation. In a sense, I do feel I have lost the world, lost connection to it, not completely of course, but very much so in many ways. And I find it such a gift to have this extended period of time to turn inward, to take the journey into my own heart and mind and ask the big existential questions.

What is most important to me in my life? What is my purpose here? What will I do with my gifts, interests, passions, ideas, thoughts, visions? What do I want to explore moving forward into a brand new phase of life, expression, creativity?

I am privileged to be able to spend time inside of myself with very little outside stress. I am safe, many are not. And I cringe every time I hear someone say “We just need to get back to normal.” I physically wince inside as though I have been struck because I am afraid of the grave mistake of going back to the old idea of normal.

The idea that we need to rush to the end of a major global catastrophe and quickly forget it ever even happened. But I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to rush out. Not out of my house, not out of this moment in this one precious life of mine when so much is being revealed, our weaknesses exacerbated and our strengths tested at every turn.

I want to sink inward and search for what I need to find, what I need to understand about what this experience is teaching me. Turn toward what is calling to me to be still and listen, to learn, to be made new. I want to be changed. Opened. I seek answers. Revelations. Insights. Discoveries. Magic. Mystery.

We are all lost right now. We are surrounded by the unforeseen, the unknown, and the unknowable. Isn’t this where rich art is born? Out of uncertainty? Out of the searching for the secrets within? Out of being lost, and found, by ourselves in darkness?

In a beautiful passage from A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit writes:

“Edgar Allen Poe declared, ‘All experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.’ Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word ‘calculate’ which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with ‘the unforeseen,’ that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” (emphasis mine)

For me, this is the very essence of the creation of art of every kind. A collaboration with chance, with the dare, with the unknown, the unseen. An acceptance, and even a welcoming, rather than a rejection or denial of the unforeseen, the incalculable, the mysterious force with which we interact in order to transform and be transformed.

“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (emphasis mine)

We have, in a sense, lost the world, lost contact with much of it. Lost control of much of it. Lost the illusions of a control we thought we had but in truth never did. We are experiencing grief, rupture, disintegration, decay. I don’t want to have gone through all of this mind bending upheaval and have learned nothing, to have nothing to show for it, nothing to emerge with when we see each other again. I want to find the gifts of this moment in time, brutal, surprising, breathtaking, and honest as they may be. Through all the heartache, I need to know it was worth something. That there is something in me I can still give, and a place within me which is still open to receiving.

The truth is, there is no going back, there never is. And I wouldn’t want there to be. I want to move forward, to be transformed into a new person, a new being with deeper awareness and intimate insights and renewed perspectives on everything. I want that for myself and I want it for the world. But I can only take care of myself. So I start in my own mind, my own body, my own spirit, my own soul. I read about getting lost and more and more, I am finding the deep abiding wisdom which can only be revealed in silence, in isolation. I cling to the hope of my soul’s voice, as wide as an ocean, wild, powerful, roaring, steady, ancient, shimmering in the dark.

 

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